Cardfight!! Vanguard (series)

All posts tagged Cardfight!! Vanguard (series)

The new main protagonist in this season, Kai.
The new main protagonist in this season, Kai.

Another disastrous HDD crash, where almost all of my anime backlog queues are store, means that there are 6 months between the last post and this one. Of course, a handy amount of procrastination, work and other things like games also contributes to the delay. As mentioned in the previous review, the third anime title for the this blog’s much-delayed ‘Anime of the Year 2014’ would be the 4th season in the Cardfight!! Vanguard series, titled Cardfight!! Vanguard – Legion Mate-hen.

Story:-
Our main male protagonist from the previous three seasons, has mysteriously disappeared into thin air (relinquishing his main protagonist in the process), and the job of finding him now lies with his main ‘love interest’ from the first season. Forming a crack search-and-rescue team consisting mainly of the former main protagonist’s friends, it turns out that the search effort has been complicated by the fact that the former main protagonist has apparently done a heel turn.

The 4th season of this series is definitely the best one, so far, because of various reasons that will be explained below. The first one is definitely the newly introduced Legion Mate gameplay system. where the players can now pair a Level 3 vanguard card with a Level 2 card to achieve various power-ups and abilities. Visually, Legion Mate system is also more impressive compared to previous seasons’ gameplay upgrades like Limit Break or Break Ride.

But what makes the Legion Mate system stands out is, because due to its Level 2 card summoning mechanic, it mitigates the biggest beef I have with the Cardfight!! Vanguard card game in general: reliance on luck when drawing trigger cards. With the Legion Mate system, players can actually deploy some kind of tactics so that he/she can manipulate card compositions at the top of the card’s deck. This can be easily seen in the card battle in episode 192.

The storyline in this 4th season is also the best one when compared to other titles in the series. One major difference this 4th season has compared to the previous three seasons is that I did not apply the sport genre standard handicap here due to the drastically different storyline than the previous seasons. Plus, as mentioned before, the protagonist’s swap is one of the changes happening here; the character in the first screenshot above is now the main character. The previous main protagonist instead has become the final enemy boss, although one with very little airtime. You may think that the lack of airtime for the former main protagonist is a negative aspect of this anime, but unlike quite  very many anime out there, the writer has done a clever trick to mitigate this issue, which I will explain later below.

Another change in the storyline that the writer has done in this fourth season compared to the second and the third one in particular, is that there are no overt ‘save the world’ plot anymore. Of course, there is still two planets to save, but at least this aim is obscured, kinda like the way it was done in the first season. As a recap, in the first season, the main male protagonist then (who is the enemy this time) doesn’t even know he is saving the world at that time. Overall, the storyline is pretty solid from the start all the way to the ending, and the only thing you can take away from this anime in this regard is that the plot is predictable.

There is one thing other anime titles, not limited to the previous three seasons of this series, but others too, can learn from this anime, and that would be how to do post-ending episodes. This anime has two of them, and unlike other titles such as Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru or Kore wa Zombie desu ka?, this anime’s post-ending episodes integrates well with the prior final arc. This is the opposite of the former’s final episode that is so out of place; it ruins an otherwise excellent anime title that has an excellent ending arc. It was in these two episodes that the original main male protagonist got his airtime back, as his character developments winds down for the final time while many (but not all) of the loose ends are being tied up. All is done within a perfectly executed time-jump too.

Character developments in this anime that has already reached 4 seasons and nearly 200 episodes is basically non-existent at best. Only the new main protagonist has any meaningful character development here, which makes him the best character in this anime; the character development is a conventional one too just like what the main antagonist has in the second season. The rest of his search-and-rescue team members actually barely has any, and here is what makes this fourth season great: nearly all of them paid dearly for their stagnant character development in the ending arc. The surly white-haired girl, the spiky-haired middle-school brat and also the current main protagonist’s best friend were all booted out from the final arc right before the final showdown. The less said about the main antagonists for the first and second season, the better. Those two are basically just bystanders in the final arc.

The presentation aspect in this anime is also done very well. The flow of the storyline is excellent from the start to the end, helped by surprisingly well-placed recap scenes virtually in all cases. The pacing is flawless too; the director really knows when to keep a card battle long (like the final showdown) and when not to (like the battle where the spiky-haired brat lose in the final arc). The director seems to already get this figured out after 4 seasons. Finally, the stand trigger card has made its reappearance as shown in the second screenshot above, after being missing for the whole 3rd season. And there are no more deus-ex-machina moments in this fourth season.

As a whole, the fourth season is truly a great title to bring the current series to a close. The anime titled ‘Cardfight!! Vanguard G’ seems to be a new series with brand new main characters that takes place after this anime. I for sure will want to watch it in the future.

Character Design:-
My comment for this section in the first season’s review still applies.

Voice Acting:-
My comment for this section in the first season’s review still applies.

Music:-
In my review of the third season of this series, I’ve mentioned that its 1st OP theme is the best OP/ED theme across all three seasons. Well, the 1st ED theme of this fourth season has just surpassed it in quality. This is one of the two bright spots for this anime in this aspect, because the rest of the OP and ED themes in this anime are just average. The other bright spot for this anime is that the OST has managed to keep up its high standards brought forward from the first season onwards.

Spotted in the wild: A stand trigger card!
Spotted in the wild: A stand trigger card!

Animation/Direction:-
This is where this anime has regressed a lot compared to the previous seasons. For starters, the fourth season still retains the usage of the blurry animation techniques that was deployed in many action scenes in this anime. But the kicker here is the drastic drop of quality in character animations and character compositions, when compared to previous seasons. Jerky animations and deformed characters, especially faces, ruins certain characters especially the surly white-haired girl and the main antagonist of the first season.

General animations are decent though, and so is integration between CGI and 2D animations. The director has really improved in this series’ final season, more than making up to the some messy issues seen in the third season. After all, stand triggers has made their comeback!

Conclusion:-
9 out of 10.
The best Cardfight!! Vanguard title to date, and also the front-runner in this blog’s ‘Anime of the year 2014’ audition so far. I have decided that there will be only 5 titles I will review for the audition, and for penultimate review in the audition, it will be for Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance. I hope it doesn’t suck.

Shortlink: https://wp.me/prgSo-FU

This guy over here know the harsh reality of this game that Animax doesn't want to admit.
This guy over here know the harsh reality of this game that Animax doesn't want to admit.

It has been quite some time since I reviewed a sequel of an existing anime series I reviewed here before, with the third Evangelion movie being the last a year ago. Therefore today I will review the third installment of the Cardfight!! Vanguard series, titled Cardfight!! Vanguard – Link Joker Hen. This anime is arguably is the best installment in the series to date, so let see if the third iteration will be able to overcome the double handicap this series is plagued with.

And even the main male protagonist will slowly admit what this game is all about.
And even the main male protagonist will slowly admit what this game is all about.

Story:-
A year has passed since the start of the first season, and our main male protagonist is now a high-school student, enrolling in the same school as his card game teammate, the beautiful surly white-haired girl I mentioned before in my synopsis of the first season of this anime. Then one of the members of the Ultra-rare idol group transfer into his class and together, they created a Cardfight!! Vanguard club in the school so that they can aim for the nationals.

Cashing in from character builds up from the first and second season, the set up at the start of the anime is solid. New characters from the main male protagonist’s high school plus the possibility of a love triangle, the first half of this anime consists of the plot where the newly formed card-playing card trying to fight their way to the nationals. The first half of the anime is definitely its best part; it is like watching Cross Game, but with card games instead of baseball. And not much different compared to the whole plot of the first season.

Unfortunately, the second half of this anime consists of a ‘save the world’ plot again, just like the final arc of the second season. Unlike in the second season, this season’s ‘save the world’ plot takes up more episodes than it does in the season before it. Quality-wise, the story in this part is better than the one in the second season though, but still there are some issues about this part (and others too) that I will address below. The ending is typically predictable for an anime with these kind of stories, and whatever loose ends that are still left by the time the last episode finished playing may or may not be addressed in the fourth season that is currently airing. I will definitely watch one too in the future.

Quoted for Truth!
Quoted for Truth!

I have already mentioned some of the gameplay changes in this season in my review of the second season, so I will not repeat them here. The only new extra change I have seen after writing the second season’s review is the Quintet Wall, a vanguard-shielding technique that can be used by some of the card types in the series (the decks of the main male protagonist and the blonde Ultra-rare member can do so). I do not really like the fact that this technique are introduced fairly late into the third season, and without any significant deck reshuffling/reconstruction by the owners of the qualifying decks. If the main male protagonist has been able to use this technique in the first place during the first phase of the anime, why he did not use it during the qualification tournament for the nationals? That technique may be able to secure his team a spot in the nationals.

This deux-ex-machina card really does not help this anime one bit. And the user of the card still managed to lose even with that card.
This deux-ex-machina card really does not help this anime one bit. And the user of the card still managed to lose even with that card.

As I have mentioned in my review for the previous two seasons, the card game that underpinned the essence of this series is basically a luck-based game. This has not changed in this season at all. A couple of things to note here. The first one is that the third season employs the ‘deux ex machina’ plot device more gratuitously like the one shown in the screenshot above. This is a weakness in writing because the antagonistic Link Joker deck’s locking system can actually be circumvented reasonably easily (without needing the trigger card drawing luck) with correct tactics. Now if the Link Joker deck has a certain power that the surly white-haired girl’s first deck in the first season has, Link Joker would have become virtually invincible.

The living proof of what the card game is all about.
The living proof of what the card game is all about.

Another thing I noticed about the gameplay in the third season is the lack of Persona Blast usage and that I have never seen any of the characters draw a stand trigger card during the battles in the ‘save the world’ story arc. And maybe in the ‘go to the nationals’ arc too. I can understand not using the Persona Blast tactic, which is a powerful tactic used in the first season, when alternatives like Break Ride exists. Persona Blast could have made for a more variety in tactics though, so it is a shame to not see it at all in the third season. I wonder what kind of skill can be triggered when two ‘reversed’ cards are used in a Persona Blast, I can only imagine that would make for an awesome augmentation for/of the locking system.

The lack of stand trigger cards baffles me though, that at the end of this season, I actually thought that stand trigger cards has actually been removed from the gameplay. But after watching a couple of episodes from the still running fourth season, it seems that that isn’t the case. I wonder if the characters in this third season actually removed them from their deck composition, which for me is suboptimal for tactics variation.

Character developments in the third installment of this series is at least better than in the previous one; no more character sabotaging by not letting any characters not being able to use new techniques that this season has provided. But in this season where almost all the recurring characters has matured; heck, the main male protagonist is now the strongest in the planet, character developments for those recurring characters are largely restricted to upgrades in their decks. The new characters, mainly from the main male protagonist school, are merely the protagonist’s sidekick at best in the card game club, and their character development reflects that too.

There is also a mystery I really want solved: During the ‘save the world’ arc, where has the biggest fan of Ultra-rare’s blonde member has gone to? Did he got ‘reversed’? Or did he fought the force of evil with his sidekick that has also gone missing while his idol herself is getting ‘reversed’? Or more likely, the writer just forgot about him? Character management really takes a nose-dive here in the third season. Not to mention the extremely large plot hole in the scene below.

Did the writer ever consider the huge plot hole this event will cause when writing this scene?
Did the writer ever consider the huge plot hole this event will cause when writing this scene?

Character Design:-
Largely, my comment for this section in the first season’s review still applies. The surly white-haired girl sure has become hotter after cutting her hair to shoulder length.

Voice Acting:-
My comment for this section in the first season’s review still applies.

The tsundere of the series. What will happen if a tsundere character acquire 'yandere characteristics' as a result of being 'reversed'? Protip: Nasty things coming the way of the main male protagonist.
The tsundere of the series. What will happen if a tsundere character acquire 'yandere characteristics' as a result of being 'reversed'? Protip: Nasty things coming the way of the main male protagonist.

Music:-
The first OP theme of the third season of this series is the best ever so far across all three seasons, although this definitely will change in the fourth season. The other two OP themes are quite OK too. The first ED theme is also good, but not for the next two ED themes. The OST is still good just like in the previous two seasons.

The suprisingly cute main antagonist of this season.
The suprisingly cute main antagonist of this season.

Voice Acting:-
Despite the additions of new characters, my comment for this section in the first season’s review still applies.

Animation/Direction:-
The usage of blurry animation technique just like the first two seasons mean one point will be docked from the final evaluation. The animation quality in this season mirrors what is seen in the second season instead of the atrocious one in the first season. The director’s performance has really regressed though this season, with missing characters, missing cards and missing techniques.

One season too late for you to do this.
One season too late for you to do this.

Conclusion:-
6 out of 10.
If not for the aforementioned handicaps, this anime would have had the same score as the current ‘Anime of the Year 2013’ holder Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru, although the latter would still win though. The currently running fourth season would have a hard time matching this third season in terms of quality because it does not have a strong start like this one.

Shortlink: http://wp.me/prgSo-DC

The main male protagonist!
The main male protagonist!

The second review for the year of 2013 is for a 2012 title, titled Cardfight!! Vanguard – Asia Circuit Hen. This anime is the sequel of Cardfight!! Vanguard, reviewed in this blog some time last year. As a series aired in 2012, this anime is supposed to battle Another for this blog’s ‘Anime of the Year 2012’ title, but the various handicaps this second season has inherited from its predecessor pretty much kills any chances of this anime of doing so. This second season has managed to improve in some parts when compared to the first season, but has regressed in one key element when doing so. To know what part this second season of Cardfight!! Vanguard has managed to screw-up, read the rest of this review. Oh BTW, because the last entry of this blog doesn’t have any pictures, this one instead will have a lot of them.

Rather than wasting precious real estate to casinos, Singapore is better off building Vanguard stadiums instead.
Rather than wasting precious real estate to casinos, Singapore is better off building Vanguard stadiums instead.

Story:-
After winning the national championship in the first season, the main male protagonist’s team has disbanded, and he spends the rest of his days moping at the fact that he has lost the love of his life (Kai). Suddenly, out of the blue, a mysterious kid appears, kicked the main male protagonist’s ass in a  Vanguard game and stole his valued Vanguard deck, replacing it with a deck foreign to him. The mysterious kid then taunted the hero, saying that he has to win the Vanguard Asia Circuit tournament in order to get his old deck back, using the new deck given to him. Therefore, the main protagonist and his old teammates has to criss-cross the Asia-Pacific region in order to retrieve what has been stolen from him.

Let’s go straight to the major regression this second season of Cardfight Vanguard has, that its predecessor doesn’t. That would be the ‘save the world’ ending arc, which is a completely unexpected turn in plot, and absolutely out of step with the story themes of the first season, and most of the materials in the second. I can understand it if the main male protagonist have to save Planet Cray from devastation (that’s what he does in the first season too), but the ‘save the Earth’ plot in the ending is a step too far. There is nothing wrong, for example, with a final tournament in knock-out or round-robin formats, between the winners of all Vanguard Asia Circuit as the plot of the final arc, which blends seamlessly with prior events in the second season and also the first one.

This pretty much sums up what the game is all about despite what Animax tagline says.
This pretty much sums up what the game is all about despite what Animax tagline says.

The storyline for this second season, excluding the ending of course, has slightly decreased in quality. But this regression in quality is more than made up by the lack of forced drama scenes and misapplied flashback sequences that plagues the first season. The second season has two beach episodes though, which is still nowhere as good as the gold standard of all anime’s beach episodes. The decrease in quality may have to do with fewer episode count when compared to the first season, more emphasis on tournaments (which makes the ending arc so out of place) and the obviously intentionally-placed throttle on developments for characters that isn’t the main male protagonist.

One of those scenes where a player 'convieniently' get a suitable trigger card at the right moment and the right time.
One of those scenes where a player 'conveniently' get a suitable trigger card at the right moment and the right time.

One thing that the second season has improved upon the first is the gameplay of the Vanguard card game. Make no mistake here; this game still depends hugely on luck when drawing trigger cards to determine the result of a card duel (exactly the opposite). And just like the first season, the writer has used this fact to skillfully manipulates the direction of the storyline. But the addition of extra game modes in Vanguard circuits after the Singapore one makes the card duels in this sequel better than the ones in first season. The notable game mode I really like is the tag battle mode in Hong Kong leg of the circuit. These game modes gives more variety to the card battles, instead of the usual best-of-3 game mode seen exclusively in all tournaments in the first season. These variable game modes also helped this second season of Cardfight Vanguard become better than its predecessor, indirectly, when it comes to story presentation.

With the new game modes seen in the tournament circuits, the already excellent pacing in in-tournament battles in the first season has actually improved in the second season. This is a major surprise to me, because initially I don’t think there are any room for improvement for this anime in this department. This is achieved by getting rid of the usual 3-battles per-round game format with single-battle per-round format that drastically reduced the amount of episodes needed to cover all the 4 tournaments in the Vanguard Asia circuit. Adding to this fact, the pacing of the general storyline also increased, allowing less episodes to be used for them. This may explain how the second season can pack as much action and plot as the first season, in only 39 episodes. For comparison, the first season has 65 of them. The flow of the storyline has also be improved, especially by the lack of the misapplied flashback sequences I mentioned earlier above.

The game modes makes the second season card battles far more interesting though.
The game modes makes the second season card battles far more interesting though.

But when it comes to character development, I have a very deep feeling that the writer is actively trying to sabotage the character developments of certain characters, especially the main male protagonist’s teammates. The signature feature of the second season is the ‘Limit Break’ technique, where a Level 3 card gets specific stat bonuses, special abilities or other positive features if the player has at least 4 damage inflicted upon him/her. As expected, the main male protagonist gets to use Limit Break from the first leg of the circuit, but his two teammates are a little bit slow on mastering this Limit Break thing.

In the first leg of the circuit at Singapore, only the main male protagonist is able to use Limit Break, while his other two teammates doesn’t. Okay I said, this is only the first leg, surely the other two will follow suit and use Limit Break in the next tournament. Then the South Korea leg comes and goes, and only the main male protagonist is using the Limit Break technique while the other two doesn’t. Okay I said, after being schooled by opponents that uses Limit Break in Seoul, surely they will follow the lead of their group leader and then use Limit Break in the next tournament.

Then the Hong Kong leg comes and goes, and yet they still doesn’t use the Limit Break technique, although they are now capable of beating opponents that uses the technique, even without using it. It was here then I started to wonder what the hell the writer is thinking. In anime titles like this, especially in sports titles, characters in those titles usually learned from their mistakes and improved in the next tournament. This doesn’t happen here at all. In fact, if the character development strategies seen in the first season is used in this second season, all three members of Team Q4 should have been able to use Limit Break already by the time the Hong Kong leg plays out.

The second season could have been better with a more radical match-ups though. How about Aichi vs. Asaka and Misaki vs. Ren?The second season could have been better with a more radical match-ups though. How about Aichi vs. Asaka and Misaki vs. Ren?

Then after the defeat in in the final at Hong Kong, all three members of the Team Q4 received a new card each, and then participates in the final leg of the circuit that is held in Japan. Okay I said, surely this time, with new cards for everyone, the main male protagonist’s sidekicks will be using Limit Break in the do-or-die tournament. You know what happened? Only one of them (the brat with spiky hair) actually used Limit Break, and the other one (surly white-haired girl) doesn’t, as Team Q4 finally wins the last leg of the circuit. Wooooah, I said, the last person’s Limit Break must have been saved for the final Royal Rumble free-for-all tournament with the winners of Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong legs of the circuit. Surely, that’s what will happen, right?

But no, the awful ‘save the world’ final arc comes after that, where the main male protagonist does most of the fighting while his teammates donned up some pom-poms cheering him at the sidelines. You will never see the Limit Break technique of his white-haired teammate even after the final episode stopped playing. What a messed up character development strategies this anime has, which is nearly up there with the abomination that is the ending arc.

A pivotal moment in the whole series: A love confession at the end of the cape!
A pivotal moment in the whole series: A love confession at the end of the cape!

But in the third season of Cardfight!! Vanguard, that is airing right now, I have glimpsed a few new exciting features that should make the third season better than its two predecessors. In the third season, the main male protagonist enrolls in the same high school as his white-haired teammate. Not only that, the blonde member of the crappiest idol group in anime history also transfers into his class. I never thought she and the main male protagonist are of the same age; that would explain the strange attraction of him by her throughout 104 episodes of the first and second season (in retrospect, she is extremely important plot device used by the writer to advance the main male protagonist’s character). In the new high school era for the main male protagonist, if the writer wants to write in romance elements, like for example, a love triangle between the main male protagonist, his classmate and his white-haired senior, all I want to say is: YES PLEASE!

And God no, please no more of ‘save the world’ plot again.

If this brat is of the same lineage as Lee Kuan Yew, then Singapore is doomed if you ask me.
If this brat is of the same lineage as Lee Kuan Yew, then Singapore is doomed if you ask me.

Not only that, the third season completely do away with character development problem in the second season that I mentioned above. The third season’s signature feature is the ‘Break Ride’ technique, when you chain two Level 3 cards in the Vanguard position to obtain +10000 attack power, which can be made more devastating when combined with the Limit Break technique. In the third season, not only that the main male protagonist can already use it, but the new character in the third season that is new to the card game can actually use it too! Even only after a few episodes, the third season sure has lots of promise.

As long as there are no more ‘save the world’ plot

My commentary of the still running third season of Cardfight!! Vanguard is included in this review of the second season, because for the first time in years, I have decided to watch this anime on a weekly basis. I will not write anything more about the third season after today, until the last episode of the third season finished playing (hopefully it is sometime in 2013).

Quoted For Truth!
Quoted For Truth!

Character Design:-
My comment for this section in the first season’s review still applies.

Voice Acting:-
My comment for this section in the first season’s review still applies.

Music:-
While the OST is still as good as ever, just the way it is in the first season, the same thing cannot be said for this second season’s OP/ED themes. The second season only has one good themes, which is the 2nd ED theme. This is so unlike the first season that has many good OP/ED themes.

The second season still have their own share of freaky Vanguard teams.
The second season still have their own share of freaky Vanguard teams.

Animation/Direction:-
Just like the first season, the blurry animation technique is being used, so one point will be docked from the final evaluation. The animation quality has improved from what I have seen in the first season; no more PowerPoint slideshows for character animations. General animations is still good; no improvements but no regressions either. The director can be credited with the tightening of pacing in in-game battles, but not for allowing the ending to be the way it is now.

Conclusion:-
5 out of 10.
Still the same score as the first season. Hopefully, the third season can improve on this.

The overriding ambition of the main male protagonist, which ends up unfulfilled.
The overriding ambition of the main male protagonist, which ends up unfulfilled.

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